Trae Young has been the subject of much ridicule before he’s even stepped foot on an NBA floor in earnest, as a pair of air balls to start summer league reinforced perceptions that the Atlanta Hawks were crazy to pass on European phenom Luka Doncic and trade back to select the Oklahoma Sooner.
“I’ve got a bull’s-eye on my back, and I haven’t even been to training camp yet,” Young told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan for her series on mental health in the NBA earlier this summer, mindful of the challenges he faces as an undersized 20-year-old bearing the massive weight of bust potential.
Well, training camp is here, and Young punctuated his preseason by calmly draining a game-winning 3-pointer against the San Antonio Spurs from 30 feet, a moonshot taken drained so smoothly that it served to remind critics why he drew such favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry in the first place.
“Obviously, Steph’s gonna go down as one of the greatest shooters in the league so I don’t want to put that sort of pressure on Trae as a shooter,” Hawks GM Travis Schlenk told San Francisco’s KNBR radio after drafting Young. “But I do think that Trae is ahead of him from a playmaker standpoint from where they are at this stage of their careers.”
Young proved himself as an electric scorer and brilliant playmaker at the college level, and Wednesday’s performance against a Spurs team admittedly playing its first preseason game without injured defensive stalwart point guard Dejounte Murray was at least a positive sign that those skills can translate to the NBA. In addition to scoring 22 points on 4-of-8 shooting from distance, including the game-winner, Young added seven assists against one turnover in a plus-18 effort in 31 minutes.
“We call it Trae dribble down and shoot,” new Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce joked after the game, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was just an in-between situation. There were 15, 16 seconds left on the clock and trying to get organized on the fly. We didn’t have any timeouts left and Trae has done that. He was probably waiting for that moment to let one fly.”
Consider the first question on Young’s pressure test in Atlanta answered — from 30 feet, no less.
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